Biology

Biology

Spotlight on Student Research

Armen Gharibi 

Armen Gharibi’s thesis research is aimed at identifying novel biomarkers and/or therapeutic targets in pancreatic cancer. Because pancreatic cancer progresses in a symptom-free manner, nearly all patients are diagnosed after the tumor has metastasized to other regions in the body. Therefore, discovering and characterizing new regulators of metastasis holds promise for increasing overall patient survival. Prior to Armen’s arrival in Dr. Kelber’s research group, previous trainees had discovered that integrin alpha 1 (ITGA1) is upregulated in pancreatic cancer. Armen has since made the seminal discovery that ITGA1 is required for a complete TGFb-induced epithelial-mesenchymal transition (EMT) – a reprogramming of cancer cells that is a prerequisite for metastasis. To identify potential mechanisms of ITGA1 action during EMT, Armen scoured online databases of cancer patient gene expression signatures. Notably, he discovered that ITGA1 expression was closely tied to specific TGFb response genes that Dr. Kelber’s group has previously studied. Armen is currently preparing a manuscript on his findings with co-first author Sa La Kim (Kelber lab undergraduate) and they will present a poster of their work at the upcoming 2016 AACR conference in New Orleans – their work will likely be published later this year. Armen’s success is rooted in his extensive understanding of the driving mechanisms behind pancreatic cancer, which is highlighted by his first-author review, Cellular and Molecular Aspects of Pancreatic Cancer, that was published in Acta Histochemica earlier this year.